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REVIEW: G.I. JOE COBRA H.I.S.S. ATTACK SCOUT with HISS DRIVER
By Thomas Wheeler

The action figure world can be a rather mercurial place at times. Toys that are showcased at the International Toy Fair or various fan conventions fail to materialize for one reason or another -- usually retailer disinterest. Sometimes a toy is manufactured and the order for it is canceled, which sometimes relegates that toy to a discount store such as Ross. But hey, at least it becomes available eventually. And then you have the strange case of a couple of 2010 G.I. Joe vehicles, that ended up having to find retailer homes outside of the United States. To which I would have to say -- thank goodness for cyberspace, and message boards that don't know national boundaries, and a few favors traded here and there. Otherwise, I suspect this review wouldn't be happening, and that would be a real shame.

The vehicle in question is formally known as the COBRA H.I.S.S. ATTACK SCOUT, somewhat more informally known among some fans as the Scout HISS. Think of it as a bare-bones-and-then-some version of the popular Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank and you've about got it.

The original H.I.S.S., which stands for "HIgh Speed Sentry", first came on the scene in 1983, and along with the Cobra FANG, a one-man attack helicopter, were the first two vehicles in Cobra's arsenal. The HISS, especially, would become both iconic and legendary in the world of G.I. Joe, pretty much the quintessential Cobra vehicle, showcasing Cobra's capability in designing very strange but highly effective vehicles, unlike anything that one might expect to see in the real world, but dangerous nevertheless.

The original HISS Tank scarcely looked like a conventional tank. Although it did have treads, these were in a strange, triangular configuration. The main body of the vehicle featured a raised, angled cockpit at the front of the vehicle, sealed with a transparent canopy -- another unusual feature for a tank, with a bulky, boxy yet angular armored body behind the cockpit, which contained a rotating manned turret with a double-barreled machine gun.

Technically, all the basic elements of a tank were present and accounted for -- the treads, although on the toy these were false treads concealing small wheels underneath; an armored-looking body, and a turret with a large gun. All of that pretty well spells out "tank" by most definitions, but the end result certainly didn't look like any tank that had ever rolled onto a real-world battlefield, and then there was the explanation of the abbreviation -- HISS - HIgh Speed Sentry. No tank in the world was really known for "high speed". And yet here was one.

With the HISS, Cobra had shown themselves capable of some extremely innovative design, definitely "thinking outside the box" when it came to creating battlefield hardware, and the G.I. Joe team realized that Cobra was going to be much more serious a threat than they had expected.

No great surprise, the HISS remained a highly popular item. The original HISS was almost entirely black. A red-colored version of it was produced as part of a Sears exclusive set.

In 1989, the HISS II came on the scene. While maintaining the basic look of the original HISS, the HISS II was distinctly larger, and far more detailed. The floor to the cockpit actually opened, providing a likely easier means for drivers to access the vehicle. The rear section also had limited room to transport troops.

In 1991, the original HISS returned, recolored in a garish red-orange and given a new squirting turret, and redubbed the "Septic Tank" to serve as part of the Eco-Warriors line. Not exactly the vehicle's career high point.

During the 2000-2002 run, the HISS III came along, really just a recoloration of the original HISS, this time in dark blue. During the 2002-2006 newsculpt era, the STRIKE HISS, sometimes called the HISS IV, came along. An entirely new vehicle, it featured the very bizarre capability of being able to raise its cockpit up and strike out like a snake.

Also during this time, another HISS, sometimes considered the HISS V, came on the scene. This was a HISS for the real world. It took the basic design of the original HISS, and expanded upon it, adding a far greater level of detail, more capabilities, without losing the "flavor" of the original. Nothing like the HISS had ever been seen in the real world, of course, but if it ever were, the consensus among many fans was that the HISS V was a good indicator of what it would look like.

But the original HISS wasn't done! It returned during the 25th Anniversary line, including a store exclusive version in dark blue. And there was also a very hard to find Arctic HISS, with a white body and some additional accessories. It also featured an entire series of unit numbers which could be placed on the sides of the vehicle, so you could number your HISS as you saw fit.

Between store exclusives and different versions, the Cobra HISS is undoubtedly the best known and most frequently appearing Cobra vehicle of all time.

With the post-movie line, an all-new HISS was created. Retaining the triangular tread system, this time, and for the first time ever, using real treads, this new HISS was a distinct departure from any of its predecessors, featuring a far more angular body than ever before.

And then we come to the Scout HISS. I suspect in this instance, what we have here is a vehicle that is emphasizing the "High Speed" aspect of the name, more than any particular tank-like attributes. Armored body? The Scout HISS barely seems to HAVE a body. It's an odd-looking contrivance, but it's just odd enough to also be very cool.

Picture the Scout HISS as a set of treads with a cockpit and a big gun. That's about it. There is no shielded canopy, there is no armored body. There are these two large sets of triangular treads, very HISS-like in appearance, with a largely unshielded seat perched between them, where the HISS Driver sits, and probably hopes he doesn't have to take on any opponents on the battlefield head-on, because if somebody puts a round between the treads, he's pretty well had it. One would assume, and from the look of it they do, that the treads and their respective mechanisms have a certain amount of shielding that protect the sides of the vehicle, and if anyone were to take a potshot at the Scout HISS from the rear, they'd as likely hit the turret as anything.

The rear of the vehicle consists of a raised turret, and a small stand with a foot peg on it. As crazy as the HISS Driver might have to be to be willing to drive a thing like this onto a battlefield, whoever might be willing to stand on the completely open platform in the rear, presumably to operate the gun, is going to have to be seriously nuts.

Granted, there is that "Scout" part of the name, and the text on the back of the package -- and every bit of text on the package is presented in four languages -- reads, "H.I.S.S. Attack Scout vehicles are lightweight machines that race over rough terrain and clear the way through minefields and defensive barriers."

Okay, so that's honestly a better explanation. These aren't particularly battlefield vehicles. They're designed with the tank treads so they can handle rough terrain, but they're really more of a high-speed advance force designed to remove obstacles in the path of the main force. Granted I can still think of activities more fun than driving over a minefield, but the underside of the Scout HISS does seem to be reasonably well protected.

The Scout HISS measures about 7" in length, and is 3" high, not counting the turret. The turret is a remarkably versatile device, which not only rotates, but rests atop a double-hinged post, so it can be aimed in a wide variety of directions. Given that it's the only real armament on the vehicle, this is a good capability to have.

The real treads are a relative rarity among tanks throughout the G.I. Joe line, but it's cool to see them here, and it does give the Scout HISS a certain added coolness factor, as well as a bit more authenticity -- as much as a vehicle this peculiar can muster, anyway.

Additionally, the tread wheels, three on each side, have these partial red circles painted on them. Since they do not go all the way around the wheel, these reflect the fact that all of the wheels turn when the vehicle is in motion. A nice little added bit of detail, really.

Let me discuss the labels for a moment. All G.I. Joe vehicles come with a sheet of labels. Team logos, vehicle names, unit numbers, dashboard and cockpit details, and assorted warning and advisory stickers. In recent times, the sheer number of labels accompanying a given vehicle has skyrocketed. Vehicles such as the Cobra Fury, the G.I. Joe VAMP, and others, came with labels numbering close to or even exceeding a hundred. That sort of thing used to be reserved for the likes of the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier or the Cobra Terror Drome. I don't mind a well-labeled vehicle, really, and they do look cool when fully labeled, but honestly, I was getting eyestrain.

The Scout HISS? About a dozen. Simply stated, there just isn't that much room on the vehicle to put labels. You can't put them on the treads. There'd be no point to putting them on the underside of the vehicle. That leaves a fairly limited space on the sides of the vehicle that are really part of the tread mechanism, which indeed is where most of the labels go. These include Cobra emblems, a unit number, "087" in the same bold stencil style as the original HISS, and a few warning labels, one of which, in very fine print under a "DANGER" sign, reads, "Stand Clear While in Operation. No smoking within 100 feet." That's good advice, but I do find myself wondering just a bit how many toys out there include a "No Smoking" advisory...!

A couple of the labels, I did have a little trouble placing. There's a pair of labels that read "Beware of Blast" that are supposed to go on either side of the gun turret, that just didn't look like they were quite going to fit in the designated space. This happens from time to time. Then there was a pair of labels of a segmented red stripe that, as far as I could tell, were meant to be wrapped over the edges on the sides of the cockpit. It's been my experience that trying to wrap these vinyl labels over a really sharply curved surface generally doesn't work very well. You may have greater success than me, but I'm looking for other placement options for these labels.

Even minus a few labels, the Scout HISS is nevertheless a very cool, interesting, and unusual addition to Cobra's arsenal. Now let's consider the --

HISS DRIVER - Well, you can't have a HISS without a HISS Driver. And indeed, the original HISS in 1983 came with a figure called HISS Driver, and it was an early indication of the sorts of radical color schemes Cobra was prepared to implement among its troops. The original 1983 HISS Driver was dressed in a bright red uniform, with a dark blue chestplate, imprinted with a silver Cobra emblem that was notorious for rubbing off far too easily, a fancy helmet with a silver visor and a snake-like design sculpted over the top, and high, ridged black boots that really make the HISS Driver look distinctive.

The original HISS Driver would not reappear for some time. The 1989 HISS II was driven by an entirely different trooper called a Track-Viper. The HISS III did present a recolored HISS Driver, but he was given a specific individual name, Rip-It. There was also a Convention exclusive use of the HISS Driver figure, as well as an additional version that was meant to be part of a store exclusive group of figures, that technically never came out, although production-level specimens have surfaced here and there.

Enter the 25th Anniversary era. A new HISS Driver in the new figure format is required. Now, in my opinion, some characters established in the original run of the Real American Hero have transitioned into the 25th-style better than others. It's not really fair to make any comparisons about entirely new characters, such as Matt Trakker, the Para-Viper, or the Volcano-Viper. But characters that started out in the original line -- some have transitioned quite well. Others -- well, let's politely say that results have varied in the eyes of fans and collectors.

In my opinion, the HISS Driver has made one of the more successful transitions. His 25th-style figure is really very cool. And there's already been several versions. There's been one, that was actually sold on an individual card, oddly enough, that looked very much like the original. Another had pretty much the same color scheme, but a silver chestplate. A third more closely resembled Rip-It, with a dark blue uniform and a dark red chestplate. Then there was the Arctic HISS driver, which rather cleverly put a HISS Driver head on top of a Snow Serpent body. It worked.

The HISS Driver that comes with the Scout HISS is an impressive piece of business, and honestly, I wanted him as much if not a little more than I wanted the vehicle. What the heck, I've got the rest of the basic HISS Drivers. I really felt he should join the group.

This HISS Driver uses the same molds as the other HISS Drivers, but in a surprisingly effective and menacing color scheme. The helmet is entirely black. The uniform is such a dark blue that it looks black in some light. The gloves, boots, belt, chestplate, and all other details on the figure are black. And right in the center of the chestplate, the only really outstanding color detail, is a silver Cobra emblem. So the end result is this menacing-looking individual, and the only pronounced detail lets you know just how menacing he likely is.

The figure is, of course, superbly detailed. Note the ridges on the belt and the straps on the back, Note the fancy ridges on the boots. Note the snake-like sculpt running over the top of the helmet.

The HISS Driver also has a holster on his upper right leg, and the figure does come with a small pistol that fits into the holster, and quite well. Still, I always recommend storing these sorts of things in Ziploc bags when possible. Such tiny accessories are just asking to get lost, really.

Paint detailing on the figure is very well done -- as far as I can tell. The dark blue-black of the uniform is so close to the black of the rest of the outfit that it's a little hard to tell. But I certainly don't see any problems, and the one obvious detail -- the silver Cobra emblem -- has certainly been imprinted very neatly.

As for the character's file card -- well, admittedly, G.I.Joe file cards aren't what they used to be. And as with everything else on the package, this one is presented four times in four languages. The English version reads as follows:

COBRA H.I.S.S. DRIVER

Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank Drivers are the most highly trained and aggressive drivers in the Cobra ranks. They have to be: they're at the controls of the most sophisticated and destructive ground weapons in he world, and it's their job to unleash the full fury of these vehicles.

One might assume that this refers to full-size HISS tanks and not necessarily the Scouts here. Makes me wonder if driving one of these things is seen as punishment duty.

So, what's my final word? This is a cool, unusual Cobra vehicle, and an exceptionally cool version of the HISS Driver. It's also not easily found. The reason there's four languages on the package is because Canadian packaging has to use English and French, and I'm reasonably sure the other two languages are Spanish and Portuguese. That's speculation based on the fact that there's a number of South American contact addresses on the box.

But, as I often say with hard-to-track-down items, IT EXISTS. It's been released, it's out there in boxed form, it's available at retail, and that means it's not impossible to add to your collection. Harder than most, admittedly, but not impossible. And in my opinion, definitely worth the effort. If you're any sort of G.I. Joe fan, and have especially enjoyed the HISS tanks and their drivers over the years, you assuredly will not be disappointed.

The G.I. JOE COBRA H.I.S.S. ATTACK SCOUT with H.I.S.S. DRIVER definitely has my highest recommendation!